Haruki Murakami has taken part in the reckless practice of writing while translating, and so has Lydia Davis. Some suspect that Elena Ferrante has, and Jorge Luis Borges definitely did. I find it no surprise that so many of the most innovative writers of the last century have experimented with translation. Vladimir Nabokov and Clarice Lispector did, and Samuel Beckett ventured into the slippery realm of self-translation more than once.
I can’t speak for the motivations of any of these literary renegades, but as a writer-translator myself, I’ve found that translation begins with the prefix “trans” for a reason. Like transcendence and transformation, it requires an acceptance of progressing with uncertainty, which is essential for authors who want to write around and over what’s currently expected from a novel. The prefix “trans” comes from the Latin word for “across.” To turn to one’s own writing after translating is to cross there with one’s mind already in motion, and emboldened from the verbal leaps and linguistic freefall that translation demands.
Inside the front cover are pen and ink drawings of insects.. The next pages are a monarch butterfly breaking free from its chrysalis, and setting off south on Route 87. The butterflies journey is interspersed by longer sections of the married couple George and Sam(antha). The first scene is sepia toned and Sam is giving birth, but it turns out that she is not having a baby but giving birth to a book. This leads into them setting off on a long stay in Oaxaca. Sam is on sabbatical, George once a fine artist is now working at a museum and is fascinated by insects. They move into a house on the edge of town which comes with a maid, Angelina.
They make friends in Mexico. AL a former war photographer a present-day alcoholic, Al; another George who runs an English language bookshop in town; and Diego Rivera-like artist. The characters lives intertwine. The earth moves: the frequent earthquakes. The town is protesting about the corrupt new governor, Uro, as well as a long running teacher’s strike. The butterfly is getting closer and the history of the area is interspersed into the narrative as Sam writes about it in the book.
This is a gorgeous book, drawn with panache that brings to life the sun-drenched troubled town, the limited couple who slowly find what they need. At the end we sees the forest where the millions of monarchs gather to mate. One of the great books in what is rapidly becoming the most urgent cannon of work, graphic fiction.
In London, it’s ninety years since the twelve gods have appeared and they come back. At a concert by one of the gods, Laura meets Luci(fer) who is in trouble wit the law. It’s a younger hipper story with echoes of The Sandman series and maybe on a much smaller scale, Paradise Lost. Much more domestic than either of these grand works, but well worth reading.
When Stéphane Heuet, a French comic artist, began publishing his graphic adaptation of Proust some years ago – Combray, the first section of the first volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, came out in 1998 – it caused something of an outcry in France: in one particularly violent fit of indignation, Le Figaro’s critic called it “cruel”, “horrible”, “catastrophic”, “blasphemous” and “prodigiously inane”. But however great the purists’ distaste, it had little effect on the book’s success: the first print run sold out in three weeks, and Heuet continued with his project undaunted (he is now five volumes in). Meanwhile, the complete first volume, Swann’s Way, was translated into English by Arnold Goldhammer, a Harvard academic. “Proust for the people”, announced the New York Times, when it came out in the US last summer. And now it has arrived in the UK, courtesy of Gallic Books.
What will British readers make of it? Having never read Proust – there, I’ve said it now – I can’t be sure what his fans will think. However, in an illuminating introduction to his translation, Goldhammer suggests that those who know and love the novel are likely to regard Heuet’s adaptation as “a piano reduction of an orchestral score”; he writes convincingly of the way the ruthless compression of the comic strip form sheds a “revealing light on the book’s armature, on the columns, pillars, and arches that support the narrator’s resurrected memories as the columns of the church in Combray support the stained glass and tapestries that transport visitors into the past they represent”. As for those who, like me, don’t know the novel, this strikes me as a good and gentle place to start. Sumptuous, elegant and beautifully paced, it is completely absorbing. Will it send me to the real thing? Maybe, one day. But whatever happens, this volume is a work of art in its own right. I’ll be forever glad to have spent so much time bent over it.
The graphic Swann’s Way is divided, like the original, into three parts. The first is an evocation of Combray, the village where the narrator, an aspiring writer, grew up (“For a long time I went to bed early…”); the second tells the story of the aristocratic Charles Swann and Odette, the woman with whom he is tormentedly infatuated; the third deals with the narrator’s idealised boyhood love for Swann’s daughter, Gilberte. This version, however, also comes with a map of Paris, an illustrated Proust family tree and, courtesy of Goldhammer, a detailed glossary (the entry for the madeleine includes its entire history). Heuet, who uses aligne claire style and clearly owes a debt to Hergé, is a brilliantly consistent artist, and the emotional concision of his strips is a pleasing counterpoint to Proust’s winding, abstract prose. However lovely, these are illustrations generic enough to allow readers both to conjure their own images, and to concentrate on the text – a narrative which, though here trimmed as neatly as Charles Swann’s beard, ultimately gives this remarkable book its intense flavour, if not all of its beauty.
In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way is published by Gallic Books (£19.99).
This volume kind of a kind of Volume 12 or Volume 0 for the series of paperback collections of the original Sandman magazine, and it reads like the extra scenes from the four volume Absolute Sandman. Maybe not the place to start despite the title and despite the fact that Gaiman writes in the introduction that it comes after Volume 10, The Wake and the short story collection Endless Nights and before the first volume, Preludes and Noctures. It also has a more consistent look than the main series, with only one artist J. H. Williams. I will read this again, and have more to say, but for now, read the series and then read this. The Sandman is not to be missed. Everyone needs to read it.
My first encounter with Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay. He has written novels , television and comics. She is an artist much earlier in her career.Their collaboration here is dreamy. The story, the setting and the visuals are all satisfyingly complex. It makes sense as a piece of work that was first published in seven magazine installments. I am not sure there is a difference between comics , and graphic fiction, for me the choice is more to do with visual style and meaningful storytelling. I was never much of a super hero comics reader, although I read them from time to time. Now I find I am not drawn to many comics, but there are graphic novels that I adore. This book is on the border, but Lotay’s style works for me. The characters fit with traditional comic style but they are surrounded by scenery and intermediate images where both the artist and the author move beyond linear storytelling. Out of work Diana Dane is hired by Darius Dax to track down Ethan Crane and find out what happened in Little Haven. Dane’s journey is interspersed with a steam punk serial called “Professor Night”. She meets several characters with distorted faces, and crosses strange landscapes. Read aand hope the story and even more the collaboration continues.
James Joyce discarded Catholicism, but he religiously observed Groundhog Day. February 2 was his birthday, and Joyce took his birthday seriously throughout his adult life. He didn’t look for the groundhog’s shadow, however. He looked for his own, and believed he’d found it in the person of another, lesser-known Irish writer who he came to consider his spiritual twin. Joyce claimed the other man had also been born on Groundhog Day in Dublin in 1882, just like him, though scholars have been unable to verify the exact birthdate of this other, lesser-known scribe. Little of the other man’s biography is in fact known with certainty.
The man may have been two years old when his father died and possibly six when he entered a Dublin orphanage, never to return home. It’s all a bit unclear; a fog of rumor hangs over his origins as it does over John Henry or Jesus Christ. This much is known: he was very small as a child; when he grew up he was still so short that one journalist said he was no taller standing than sitting; others called him a leprechaun, and he didn’t much like that; he told a cartoonist, “Eh, you want to caricature me, eh? Well, the Almighty beat you to it.” This too is known: notwithstanding his diminutive beginnings, great men would come to worship at his feet.